Cumin – Mellet Yira
by Kasma Loha-unchit
See also Kasma's information on Cilantro (Pak Chee).
Cumin (Mellet Yira): This spice is sometimes erroneously called "fennel" or "caraway" in Thailand, perhaps because the first western translators were not familiar with it and mistook it for the other two because of their similar appearance. As far as I know, neither fennel nor caraway are used in Thai cooking. Therefore, if you should find a package of seeds in a Thai market labeled as "fennel," it is most likely to be cumin instead.
Cumin is used primarily in curry pastes, some marinades and a few Indian-influenced dishes. It is normally used in combination with coriander seeds, either roasted first for a more aromatic feature, or plain for more subtle flavoring. Because it is not a primary spice flavor for Thai cooking and can overpower, take care not to overuse.
Roast cumin seeds in a dry pan over low to medium heat, shaking the pan frequently to roll the seeds around until they are aromatic and a darker shade of brown. If the pan is too hot, the seeds will pop; reduce heat accordingly. Do not burn as this will add a bitter taste. Since spices lose flavor and fragrance quickly after they are ground, always buy cumin in whole seeds and grind them yourself when needed. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place in the cupboard. Roast the seeds only as you need them.
Our Ingredients Index contains links to many more Thai ingredients.